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Working With Mistakes

I’m a recovering perfectionist. I have a phobia of mistakes and want everything to go perfectly, and without conflict. But that’s not how creative processes work, and that’s a good thing.

As my fellow blogger Jackie points out, it is the nature of life, especially a life in theatre, to be full of new situations and people you can’t ever be fully prepared to handle. We can (and should) be well prepared, but new, chaotic elements will always emerge, and embracing these challenges is part of embracing a life in the theatre. So how does one accept that one will make mistakes without resignation or detachment?

I’m working to see that errors and missteps are part of the process, and don’t always effect the ‘value’ of the work. Somehow, this is harder for me to accept than the old adage of ‘learning from your mistakes.’ But mistakes can be intrinsically valuable as well–that is, not all mis-steps are wrong in a moral or absolute sense.

I think the problem has a source in seeing conflict and mistakes as by nature morally negative, and repaired mistakes as somehow inferior, rather than recognizing the beauty of repair. I’m reminded of a piece I saw at MOMA a last December as part of their Preforming Histories  gallery exhibition; the name of the piece eludes me. It was placed in a corner, with two abutting screens, and a 35mm automatic slide projector aimed at each one. The slides were a mixture of two sorts of images. The first were repaired and repurposed utilitarian objects from Africa, like  broken pottery stitched back together with wire. The objects were clearly lovingly repaired, and many of them appeared to be ritual objects of one sort or another.  The other set were of young men with facial injuries sustained during WWI before and after reconstructive surgery and prostheses. Just as with the objects, these men had been lovingly and carefully put back together. Their faces would never be the same, but they would be expressive and dignified nonetheless.

As much we might want to be, none of us is perfect. We will make mistakes, as will our collaborators. The question is, then what? If something becomes broken or deformed, how do we put it back together with artistry? How do we forgive ourselves with grace? We have to keep going, keep creating, and recognize that on some level what we are doing is ‘just theatre;’ no one lives or dies based on our work. We have to keep an invested perspective on creative conflict.

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One comment on “Working With Mistakes

  1. […] my last post, I talked about working with myself. This, week I’ve been thinking about working with others. […]

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